Sydney Smith Jr. (Alliance)
At age 42, Sydney Smith Jr. had spent much of his adult life in trouble. He was a repeat offender who had bounced in and out of prison numerous times. When he wasn’t incarcerated, he was unable to sustain himself independently.
“I never made it to my third month of rent in any place I ever lived,” he says, explaining that he was often homeless or forced to stay with friends.
Awaiting his release from prison in 2019, he worried that the cycle was beginning all over again. “I knew that after my release, I didn’t want to keep breaking the law. I didn’t want to start getting high. I didn’t want to harm anybody. But at the same time, I knew that I didn’t have any real-life skills that would help me make it. That was a huge fear. I couldn’t see how I was going to succeed.”
Sydney is not unique. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, returning citizens face tough obstacles. They have to find a steady job -- which often requires them to learn new skills – as they are dealing with difficult health issues such as addiction. Before they can tackle those challenges, however, they need a stable place to live. Unfortunately, returning citizens are almost 10 times more likely to be homeless than the general public.
Sydney was fortunate. Upon his release from prison, he was accepted into a local recovery house, where he stayed for six months and worked on his recovery from addiction. “At first I was totally afraid of the process,” he says. “But I found that I could commit, for the first time in my life, to allowing people to help me and guide me. Sobriety was one part of it. I knew that in order to have a chance, I couldn’t use drugs or alcohol. But it was also very important to get constant reassurance from people who told me that it was going to be okay.”
When his time at the recovery house reached an end, he was accepted into the Guilford House, the transitional home for formerly incarcerated men that Bridges operates in partnership with the Howard County Department of Corrections (DOC). The home is a stable, supportive environment for its residents, who can stay for up to one year as long as they find a job and obey house rules that are overseen by a live-in house manager who is employed by DOC. Residents pay half of their work earnings into escrow, allowing them to build the nest egg they need to move into permanent housing.
Sydney spent nearly one year at the Guilford House. During that time, he received promotions at work, became a Certified Recovery Coach, and began work on his certification as a Peer Recovery Specialist.
“Guilford House was a great place for me,” Sydney says. “It allowed me to save up first and last month’s rent. I was also able to buy a car, which expanded my work options even further. At the same time, I was learning how to manage money responsibly for the first time in my life. As an ex-offender, that stability helped to give me a new perspective. It was so important to be around people who were trying to accomplish the same things and find a new way to live life.”
Sydney looks back on his journey in quiet amazement. “My life is now totally different. If you were to ask me about that guy coming out of jail 18 months ago, if I could believe that my life would be where it is today, I would have said that wasn’t possible. I wake up and I feel hopeful. I’ve got a job, a bank account, an insured car. I’m sitting here in my own rocking chair as I talk to you. I have peace today. That’s huge for me.”
Terri (Housing Connections)
Terri takes great pride in becoming free of an addiction to substances. At the time of the initial assessment with the Housing Connections Program, Terri was residing in a transitional home. She welcomed the stable environment in which she established a routine with her jobs and maintained regular visits with her son, who was temporarily being cared for by another family. Finding a home independent of the transitional residence was integral in Terri’s goal of being reunited with her son under a shared roof. Blemished credit history was at the forefront of Terri’s barrier to stable housing.
The Housing Connections Program Manager advocated strongly on Terri’s behalf with the realtor representing a private landlord and helped make signing a lease a reality. Terri and her son, who was able to remain at the same school, received the keys to their new home in three weeks!
After Terri was settled in her home, Housing Connections continued to provide case management, including a link to employment-related services that helped to produce a 50% increase in income. The program manager also connected Terri to a credit repair coach, who continued to work with Terri on aggressively repairing her credit. Terri’s landlord raved about her as an exemplary tenant. Terri shared her journey and thanked Bridges at the Housing Connections Thank You Breakfast in June 2019. Since leaving the Housing Connections program Terri successfully bought a home for moderate-income households in the county.
Ms. Marshall (HSP)
Ms. Marshall was homeless since moving back from Kansas last year with her four children—ages 15, 7, 5, and 4. During that time, Ms. Marshall struggled to find steady employment and housing, so she had her children reside at her friend’s home while she slept in the car. Ms. Marshall was referred to Bridges’ Shelter Diversion program, by one of her children’s Pupil Personnel Worker, and started making plans for achieving a stable home for her family.
Ms. Marshall has worked effortlessly with her Shelter Diversion Housing Advocate to create a budget and apply to housing complexes. Things continued to look up for Ms. Marshall as she worked to repay her back rent and get her car serviced to have reliable transportation to her new full-time job.
On July 2nd, Ms. Marshall and her children moved into their new three-bedroom townhome. Bridges was able to assist this family by paying their security deposit and first month’s rent in addition to providing toiletries, cleaning supplies, and dishware. Ms. Marshall continually strives to maintain stable housing for her family and is currently receiving employment training to obtain a higher paying position.
Alex & Angelica (Alliance)
Alex and Angelica emigrated from Cameroon in 2009 and became US citizens in 2017. He works for the Postal Service. She is a certified nursing assistant. Their Bridges Alliance home in Columbia has provided a stable foundation for them to work on job skills and certifications, and allowed them to educate their children in a great school system.
“Bridges has been a gift for us, because of what they have done and what they are still doing for us. We thank God for that. We thank all the sponsors, we thank the staff for working with love, kindness and respect, we thank all those volunteers for their time and the hard work they're doing.”
Allen & Tracy (Alliance)
Allen and Tracy became homeless after she suffered a career-ending injury. He has a small pension from UPS and continues to work at an auto repair center. Before moving to a Bridges Alliance home in Columbia with their two disabled adult children, the family lived for 6 months in a motel.
“Having a home means stability, privacy, security, and consistency. We now have the ability to make long-term plans and decisions. And we can be ourselves in a community where we feel secure, safe, and comfortable. The Bridges Alliance program provided this home for my family and assisted us with furnishings as well. They followed up with us to make sure we got settled and if we needed anything. And they stay connected to us by providing regular educational meetings and support.”
Jackson has suffered from an ongoing debilitating illness his entire adult life. He needs to use a wheelchair to get around and was unable to work due to his physical limitations and frequent hospitalizations. Living in his car for several years has made Jackson's condition much worse.
When Jackson was referred to Bridges, his disability income was $650 a month. He was willing to move anywhere in Maryland, but it was hard finding a wheelchair accessible, income-based unit. Jackson’s Housing Advocate at Bridges helped him obtain the necessary documents and complete his housing application. Soon after, Jackson moved into a supportive housing unit.
Jackson really enjoyed his new apartment but struggled to maneuver through the doorways of his building. The Housing Advocate advocated on Jackson's behalf with building management and within a few weeks, additional modifications were made to his door and the complex entrance. Bridges was glad we could help ensure Jackson has an accessible living space.
Jackson has been stable for nearly two years now and receives the medical care he needs to stay out of the hospital and remain active in his community.
Lisa experienced homelessness after a car accident left her with a spinal cord and traumatic brain injury, making it impossible for her to keep her job, resulting in her family’s eviction. She continued to care for her two young sons, ages seven and two.
After being referred to Bridges, Lisa's Housing Advocate found temporary safe housing for the family and assisted with rent. They realized Lisa needed ongoing rental assistance for her family to have stable housing. Lisa and her Housing Advocate worked to submit a section 8 housing voucher, create a credit repair plan, and find a permanent residence for this family.
Their persistence and advocacy worked out! We're grateful for the local landlord who looked passed Lisa's low credit score, eviction history, and multiple disabilities. Lisa and her sons are stably housed in a two-bedroom apartment in a safe Howard County neighborhood. Lisa is now connected to support services in her new community getting the health treatments and physical therapy she needs.
Anisha, a case manager with the Dept. of Social Services, lives in a Bridges Alliance home in Laurel with her son, aged 6.
“Two years ago, I was injured at work. For three months my paycheck was cut by more than half. I was forced to leave our home, with nowhere to go, with just my child and belongings, a lot of which I lost during this time. One month later, the Bridges Alliance coordinator sent a message asking if I wanted to see a property. I knew immediately it was going to be our home. I joined the Bridges family and vowed never to be homeless again. My son is now excelling in school, and he has earned a place in the accelerated math program. Bridges is steadily pushing me to a higher level. I want to own my own home and give back to this organization, just as they gave to me, and be the vision, so other families can see that you can make it.”
Jacqueline, a restaurant manager, lives in a Bridges Alliance home in Columbia with her two children, one of whom is autistic.
“After leaving a toxic relationship and then being illegally evicted, I was forced to couch-surf with my two children for 6 months. Then I found Bridges. The process went so quickly and I was in our beautiful condo within 2 weeks. Since we had lost everything, Bridges has helped with significant donations of furniture, dishes, and other household items. This organization is such a blessing to be part of and for my family’s future. Thank you, Bridges to Housing Stability, for answering all of my prayers! GOD BLESS.”
Leanne (Housing Connections)
Following the dissolution of her marriage, Leanne suddenly found herself in unfamiliar territory as she navigated supporting a family on a single income. She was fortunate to have the support of family willing to extend any resources they could. Leanne was extremely grateful for a family member providing a place for her and her two daughters to rest comfortably at night. However, even with the best of intentions on the relative’s behalf, time and space would only allow for a temporary living situation. Maintaining a residence in Howard County was of the utmost importance as her daughters were nearing the end of their secondary education tract.
Leanne enrolled in a homeownership program before qualifying for Housing Connections. Success in the homeownership program was contingent upon a year of timely rent payments, yet opportunities appeared bleak. Securing a residence through Housing Connections resolved several concerns: (1) security deposit paid by the program allowed the funds previously allocated by Leanne to place in a savings account; (2) the commute, thus travel expenses, to her full-time government job was lessened; (3) a stable environment for her children made the choice to seek a part-time job a less difficult one. Addressing and resolving these matters translated into additional monies saved for a home.
Leanne credits the moral support she received from the Housing Connections Program Manager as playing a role when setbacks were encountered, “Owning a home has always been important to me. This program helped make it happen in spite of difficult times.” Today, Leanne is the proud owner of a new townhome! Her college-bound daughter is happy to have her own room and her eldest daughter is happy to come home from her college dormitory on weekends and holidays!
Re-entering society after a 9-month jail term, Mark was determine to rebuild his life honestly. But he had no resources and nowhere to live. Fortunately, Grassroots gave him a sleeping pad on the floor for one week, and then offered him a shelter room. For two months he worked his way back onto his feet, working two jobs and ultimately moving into his own apartment.
His motivation was Jeremy, his son, age 8. Jeremy had been living with his mother, whose drug addiction prevented her from getting Jeremy to school regularly. Mark not only wanted to reconnect with Jeremy, he wanted to provide a stable home.
Unfortunately, Mark’s new apartment had over-extended him, and he found himself losing ground. Each month he had to spend several stressful days seeking food and financial assistance from community resources and charities.
Then Bridges offered him a home at an affordable rate that was nearly 50% less than his previous rent. Mark and Jeremy moved into the unit and haven’t looked back. Jeremy has settled into his new school, and Mark has continued to make progress at his career. He is a manager at a local restaurant and has doubled his income since he began working there.
Mark is ever-conscious that he is a role model for his son. “I tell Jeremy that this is the start of our move upward,” says Mark. “I’ve been given an opportunity to make positive strides toward living, instead of just surviving. For someone with nothing, someone who is not able to get on their feet, sometimes all you need to get out of that hole is opportunity. Bridges has provided me with that opportunity for growth and success.”
Asia has experienced homelessness several times since 2004. Her longest period with housing was after the family member she was living with passed away and she lived in an abandoned vehicle for a year. Asia had great difficulty finding sustainable housing due of her fixed income and the disability which impacts her ability to become employed.
Eventually, Asia received a housing voucher for chronically homeless individuals but had difficulty finding affordable housing in Laurel, where she has lived all of her life. After working diligently with her Housing Advocate, Asia decided to move to Columbia and signed a lease on September 11, 2019. Her Housing Advocate connected her to the local food bank and provide bus tickets, which Asia was extremely grateful for.
Asia is currently working to familiarizes herself with her new community. She is also working with MakingChange to repair the credit issues that have caused her anxiety in the past. Asia recently got baptized as a symbol of the new chapter she has started in her life and is happy to continue this chapter by hosting Thanksgiving in her home for the very first time.